Brown Adviser Joshua Groban Tapped as New California Justice

Joshua Groban, California Gov. Jerry Brown’s senior adviser, as been nominated to be the next California Supreme Court justice. (California Office of the Governor)

(CN) – After more than a year, the California Supreme Court bench is finally whole: Governor Jerry Brown announced Wednesday he has chosen his senior adviser Joshua Groban to fill the vacancy left by the 2017 retirement of Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar.

“Josh Groban has vast knowledge of the law and sound and practical judgment,” Brown said in a statement. “He’ll be a strong addition to California’s highest court.”

As Brown’s senior adviser on policy and appointments, Groban, 45, has vetted some 600 appointments to the California judiciary since 2011. Werdegar’s retirement sparked some speculation that Groban could be her replacement.

In a statement Wednesday, Groban said he was humbled to be chosen.

“Serving the people of California over the past eight years has been the privilege of a lifetime,” he said. “I am truly humbled by this nomination and, if confirmed, I look forward to working alongside the highest court’s truly exemplary jurists.”

In a statement, retired Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno said he was “delighted” by Brown’s choice.

“He is a thoughtful and deliberative selection who will serve with distinction on our nation’s leading state supreme court. I’m also very pleased that the governor has nominated someone with roots in Southern California who will add to the geographical balance on the court,” Moreno said.

Groban is from Los Angeles. He graduated from Stanford and Harvard Law School.

In addition to helping Brown make his judicial picks, Groban was legal counsel for Brown’s 2010 campaign. He also lectures on state appellate practice at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law.

Groban is the fourth appointment Brown has made to California’s highest court, continuing his streak of choosing attorneys and legal scholars with no prior judicial experience. In 2011, he selected UC Berkeley dean and law professor Goodwin Liu. In 2014, he appointed former Stanford University Law professor Mariano-Florentino Cuellar and U.S. Department of Justice attorney Leondra Kruger.

“I know him to be an excellent lawyer,” former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said in a phone interview Wednesday. Johnson, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison LLP in New York, has known Groban for almost 20 years, ever since they worked on cases together when Groban was an associate there from 1999 to 2005.

As chair of the judiciary committee of the New York City Bar Association, Johnson has vetted hundreds of potential judges for New York’s court system.

“In three years I interviewed 500 people for judgeships, and there is no litmus test for what constitutes a good judge. And great judges come from a variety of backgrounds and experience. You have to look at each person individually,” Johnson said.

Brown never said why he took so long to name Werdegar’s successor, though it did take him nine months to name Kruger after Justice Joyce Kennard retired. Appellate court justices have stepped in to fill Werdegar’s spot over the last year, but without a seventh member the court has struggled to keep up with the workload.

When pressed by reporters in January, Brown said, “I’m searching my mind. This is not something that I want to do too quickly because it’s very important now. I’ve appointed three and the fourth can be very decisive, so I want to understand how that decisiveness should work.”

Groban needs to be confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments, but will not have to face voters until 2022.

Democratic appointees will make up the majority on the court if Groban is confirmed.

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